Can virtual reality make you exponentially more productive?
Tech giants like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Intel and Samsung have all staked their claim in VR projects in the past year. In a recent interview with Y-Combinator, Mark Zuckerberg even went as far to say VR is the platform we’ll all be working off of 20 years from now.
If that’s the case, how will this new technology influence the way we work? And even more so, how will VR/AR impact our knowledge and decision making process?
I believe this platform shift will lead to a new era of exponential productivity, or “productivity at scale.”
The Future of You: You as a Service… Uber You!
How many times have you said: “I need a clone” or “I could use another me?” or “I wish I had more time for family”? In the near future, virtual reality and augmented reality could significantly improve our quality of life by making you more productive, freeing up more time for relationships and self-improvement. Just as automation and robotics have replaced much of our manufacturing, virtual reality could replace much of our repeated lower mental tasks, decisions and presence. Consider this phenomenon as “productivity at scale;” the hypothesis that the more augmented technology platforms we adopt, the more productive we can become.
Don’t believe me? Organizations that are investing in virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence are already creating consumer products that provide higher level human services. Consider Amazon’s ‘Alexa’, Microsoft’s ‘Cortana’, or Apple’s ‘Siri.’ Today they perform voice-activated search and recommendation responses, much like a dog plays fetch, but at this point the dog is more reliable! In the future these digital assistants will do much more.
The tech giants are investing in these technologies to create the future must-have electronic consumer products and ingratiate us to their product ecosystems by learning our habits and preferences. So what does that mean? Siri is going to do much more than play your favorite music, turn your lights off and order theater tickets. Eventually, these digital assistants are going to do higher level work for you, such as answer your email, coach you on creating better work product and be your personal teacher for learning new tasks. Could it be that this technology could act like you and be a proxy for you? I think so! You will pay for UaaS, or You as a Service.
MORE THAN A MASK
We think of ‘virtual reality’ as a mask that fits over your head and eyes and simulates an environment or game. Facebook and Sony have already launched consumer products that allow you to interact in a simulated virtual world, but enterprises are also syncing up with VR vendors for more practical means. For example, California utility PG&E is working on virtual-reality technology with the IoT startup Space-Time Insight. For tough troubleshooting scenarios, PG&E says virtual reality could provide a quicker and safer way for workers to inspect equipment without the risk of getting zapped. Imagine the cost savings associated with not having to send workers to far-off substations to tinker with solutions when instead you can send them directly into the field?
There are also ‘telepresence’ products available that allow people to feel like they are in the in the same room as others. Telemedicine is common example, but the accessibility of VR technology takes things to a new level. Nowadays, neurosurgery teams can take a test drive through the patient’s brain before going into IRL surgery thanks to companies like Surgical Theater that enables medical personnel to use standard medical imaging to create 3-D virtual renderings of brain structures.
Have you seen the 1996 movie Multiplicity? It’s about a man who wants to spend more time with his family so he decides to clone himself and chaos ensues. I am not saying productized human cloning is coming, but you could very conceivably have a sentient VR clone, or another you. People could order up an ‘Uber You’ for your particular domain expertise. If you can afford it, you might even be able to have many ‘Uber You’s.’ For in demand people, with complex lifestyles, this could mean that a virtual you could attend and control meetings on your behalf. They could possibly make decisions for you and later report feedback and results. You of course would be in complete control and could set thresholds on what behaviors you would allow your ‘Virtual You’ makes. You basically could be in two, three, or four places at the same time and thus much more productive. You could also command a virtual you to run electronic errands like: triage my emails, pay expenses, talk to mom, book travel, or research a topic.
Just be careful to know when not to use your virtual you, like with your spouse. Simulated Life can be hazardous and scary.
BEAM ME UP SCOTTIE!
The experience of a first time will be replaced with an artificial version of reality. We are seeing this develop in organizations such framestorevr.com. Today you can take a Volvo XC90 on a drive and never leave your living room. Volvo Reality promises you to “Go from a flat piece of cardboard to a full virtual reality headset in less than a minute. It’s a test drive so immersive you have to experience it to understand it.” They claim that it is the first mobile phone virtual reality test drive. This technology will explode and will become a decision-experience making tool for mankind. It will enhance how we select vacations, get educated, buy a home, attend sporting events, and enjoy concerts. If you thought modern transportation shrunk the world just wait for Virtual Reality to become mainstream. We all want the transporter like on Star Trek; this technology will enable us to be anywhere, with anyone, at anytime. Productivity should sky rocket as we should not have the burden of transportation; think of it as WebEx on steroids.
THE EMOTIONAL UNCANNY VALLEY
As simulated life becomes more and more real our acceptance of such things will also fluctuate. We see CGI in movies and it is becoming very difficult to discern what is human and what is not. Masahiro Mori was first to pioneer research in the emotional response of humans to robotic entities. Mori observed that engineers should not make their robots too lifelike in appearance and motion because as things become more lifelike they can impact the observer’s affinity. This is called the Uncanny Valley. However, it is more than robotic motion and appearance. The ‘Uncanny Valley’ will also have to apply to human emotions, empathy, voice tone, and other soft attributes that make us human. Apple, Google, and Microsoft will have to consider the ‘Emotional Uncanny Valley’ when building virtual products. This measurement will simply become a feature or a measurement that can be set to the degree of comfort required by the consumer. “Cortana! Chill you are getting too emotional please set Uncanny Valley to level 3.
WHERE IS THIS GOING
There is always a dark side to this technology and plenty of uncertainty and doubt. We will have to secure our VR selves to protect privacy. We already give up our privacy through search engines, electronic banking, mobility and the like. We do this because of the perceived benefit of these services and that trend will continue. The first implementations will be AI virtual reality response systems as an alternative to voice mail. A bot will receive and answer your calls and potentially respond back with intelligent answers. Virtual bots will drop breadcrumbs for you as reminders that you should buy steaks for your cookout this weekend as you walk into your grocery store the following week. From this will spawn analytic path and pattern analysis that could be used for a variety of different purposes. Soon it will become easier and easier to retrace your steps and build a time-series of your life. It will take some getting used to, but you will love it.